USF's Hennig, 'Tampa Bay Water Story' make a splash

By JOHN HOWELL The Daily Fray
November 9, 2016 9:12 pm

Katy Hennig has always been close to the water. She moved to Sarasota from Long Island, New York, at age 10. She attended the University of Tampa with a swimming scholarship. And this weekend her film, “Tampa Bay Water Story,” is ready for a splash at the Blue Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit in St. Petersburg.

KatyHennig1 (Small).jpg“The film is meant to remind us all that we can’t be complacent,” Hennig said in an email.

Blue Ocean, which alternates yearly between St. Pete and Monaco, is showcasing more than 90 films from 24 countries today through Sunday. Judges received more than 300 submissions.

Hennig developed Tampa Bay Water Story as part of her graduate studies in digital journalism and design at the University of South Florida. The 12-minute video received honorable mention in the student film category and is scheduled for a screening Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Palladium Theater.

Hennig is manager of digital news and social media for USF Health. Her earlier career stops include nine-plus years at WFLA-TV after a start at SNN-TV in 2001 as a photojournalist. Tampa Bay Water Story (video below) portrays a collaborative effort to monitor, maintain and care for Tampa Bay:

TDF: Your film is partly a success story about Tampa Bay. So what worries you most about this ecosystem?

Hennig: Tampa Bay is a great example for other estuaries and coastal communities to learn from; when people pay attention to and care for waterways, significant changes are possible. Tampa Bay is a unique ecosystem. It is largely spring fed from the Floridan aquifer and is surrounded by three counties, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee, making it an incredible source for the economy as well as recreation. Tampa Bay suffered from a serious nitrogen imbalance in the 1970s, and with a collaborative effort between citizens, scientists, and politicians, the tides turned and regrowth and rejuvenation began. Now, in 2016, the Bay is fairly healthy; fish, dolphins, manatees and sea grasses thrive. But we all must take note and learn from the past, understanding that too much pollution, from any source, will quickly throw that delicate ecosystem out of balance, affecting the health of our waterways and ultimately, us all.

Tampa Bay Water Story is meant to remind us all that we can’t be complacent. We should be inspired by the efforts that help the Bay remain healthy and not let population growth and an outdated infrastructure upset the balance in the Bay. We need to make serious changes to the way sewer systems and runoff reach the Bay and understand that we cannot overwhelm the Bay with pollution; we need to work together to develop solutions.

KatieHennigTBBayshore (Small).jpg

» "Tampa Bay Water Story," Sunday, 2:30 p.m., at the Palladium Theater, 253 5th Ave. N., St. Petersburg

• How does your personal experience – 29 years living in Southwest Florida – affect your environmental reporting?

Living in Southwest Florida offers a great perspective on the value of a healthy and vibrant coastal ecosystem and a deep appreciation for clean water. It’s no surprise that the area has grown and thrived economically, but as population has increased, the care for waterways and the infrastructure that reaches it has not evolved with the growth. Knowing how special Florida is has given me an inherent passion to communicate the need to take care of it, highlighting the beauty through film, encouraging the community to maintain the delicate systems that require tremendous care.

• What kind of audience did you maybe have in mind for Tampa Bay Water Story?

When I created Tampa Bay Water Story, the idea was to appeal to all individuals that enjoy the beauty that the state of Florida and Tampa Bay has to offer. There’s a reason why we love to live here and it’s crucial to also understand that if we don’t care for the environment and pay attention to what ends up in the Bay, we will not be able to enjoy the lifestyle that we are so fortunate to have now. The film is meant to inspire people of all ages; community members, scientists and politicians, showing that we can work together and find solutions to issues that could harm the Bay and make a real difference. As University of South Florida civil and environmental engineer Daniel Yeh, Ph.D explains in the film, “We all have a say in how we want our cities to evolve.”

KatyHennigTampaBay1 (Small).jpg• How has environmental awareness in Florida changed since you moved to Sarasota as a kid?

Thirty years ago, there wasn’t the same awareness about what is happening in the environment. We didn’t think or talk about how what we do has a direct impact on our waterways. Back then, in 1988, the population in Florida was 12 million; now it’s 20 million. The infrastructure, including water and sewer systems, has not kept up with the growth and demands on the environment.

Tampa Bay is truly a success story in the fact that in the 1970s, significant efforts by interdisciplinary entities, joined forces to change the way people treated the Bay. Over the course of thirty years, it has become clear that more awareness about how small changes can make a big difference is critical and the only way to maintain that moving forward is to focus on caring for our vital water systems.

• What are the best things for you about Tampa Bay? 

Tampa Bay surrounds every aspect of what we love and cherish about living here. It’s beautiful, vibrant and full of life. Driving across the bridges to St. Petersburg, seeing dolphins jump and pelicans plunge for fish; this is what the Bay gives so generously to the ecosystem. But the health of the Bay is in serious jeopardy. It’s constant vigilance, and that comes with understanding our role in maintaining the health of Tampa Bay.

» Photos courtesy Katy Hennig.

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